Second Language Learners
Supporting children acquiring a second language in a Montessori environment requires a collaborative effort between parents and teachers. The Montessori approach, with its emphasis on individualized learning and hands-on activities, can be particularly effective for children learning a second language. Montessori is about individualized learning, so materials and activities are adapted accordingly.
Learning a second language is an asset, and the first language has a continuing and significant role in identity, learning and acquisition of additional languages. Children need to develop strong foundations in the language that is dominant in the home environment, where most children spend most of their time. Home languages are also important for maintaining positive family connections therefore it is very important to maintain the language of the home. Maintaining and developing the home language will benefit the child and support their developing skills in their second language acquisition.
What is language?
Language is a system of communication which combines sounds and written symbols that are used in particular countries and or regions for talking or writing. It is a way in which humans communicate as a social group, and within their cultures, to express themselves.
Second language acquisition
Second language acquisition is learning another language after the mother tongue has already been established. It is a process used to obtain a second language. It is a subconscious process used while communicating.
Stages of second language acquisition
When children acquire a second language, they almost always follow a developmental sequence. The time spent in each developmental stage will vary from chid to child. Every child is unique and develops at their own pace.
· Silent period – a period where children are absorbing the language but not yet producing any words. Children tend to start in the new environment using their native language and once they realise that this does not work, they will enter the silent period. This period could last from a few weeks to a year. It is dependent on different factors such as personality, culture, how close the native language is to the home language and age.
· Echoing of single words or short phrases – a period where children are using single words or two – three-word phrases. During this stage, children are repeating words and phrases that they have heard but are not essentially producing the words. Examples of words used in this phase are yes, no, hello, toilet, etc.
· Development of formulaic language – a period where children use language which is repetitive such as lyrics or phrases such as “good morning”. Children will use words and phrases which they have memorised although they may not always be used correctly.
· Creation of own telegraphic speech – a period where children communicate by creating phrases consisting of only the most important words to communicate the message. Children may start creating small conversations with their peers and may ask simple questions. They will begin to understand stories read in the classroom with the support of pictures.
· Begin to expand on simple phrases and sentences often with grammatical errors – a period where children begin to have a good comprehension of the second language but have grammatical errors such as “I goed”. Children will begin to express their opinions and share their thoughts.
· Development of greater control of functional language – a period where children can communicate in the second language with few grammatical errors. They are able to answer questions requiring more than a sentence answer.
Montessori & Language Acquisition
“The only outwardly recognizable sign of the onset of the sensitive period for language is the child’s smile” (Montessori, 1997, p169).
The sensitive period for language is from birth to six years. If the child misses this window to learn a language, it may be impossible to learn language and to speak. The child absorbs information through their environment. Their mother tongue is determined through the language used in their environment. They move around their tongue to try and make the sounds heard in the environment. This is done during the sensitive period for language.
The prepared environment doesn’t require much change for children learning an additional language. It is suitable as most of the materials in the environment can introduce a different language. The activities are chosen by the children which results in the children already holding the interest and the practitioner building on that with added language. Multiple activities are introduced using a three-period lesson (3PL). The children gain the language by repeating the new language in every stage of the 3PL. Many activities on the Activities of Everyday Living shelf lead the child into role-play scenarios. This creates conversation which also leads to the acquisition of language. Pre-literacy activities such as storytelling and songs build on a new language in a child with English as an Additional Language. Knowledge and Understanding of the World Activities provide children with a new language about the world. The children are also exposed to different cultures and could come across their own which could foster a sense of belonging. Knowledge and Understanding of the World also creates opportunity for conversation which continues to provide the language for the children.
How can you support your child at home?
Start Early: Research suggests that the earlier a child is exposed to a second language, the more proficient they are likely to become. Children have a greater capacity for language acquisition during their early years. Starting as early as possible is beneficial.
Consistency: Consistency is key in language learning. Ensure that the child has regular exposure to the second language. Consistent practice helps reinforce what they've learned.
Use Play and Fun Activities: Make language learning enjoyable. Use games, songs, and activities that are engaging and age appropriate. Interactive and fun methods can help children associate positive feelings with language learning.
Read Together: Reading in the second language is a great way to build vocabulary and comprehension skills. Choose age appropriate books and read together regularly.
Encourage Social Interaction: Encourage your child to interact with others who speak the second language. Playdates or classes with other children who speak the language can be highly beneficial.
Set Realistic Expectations: Every child is different and learning the second language takes time. Every child will learn at a different rate. Don't put pressure on the child to achieve fluency quickly. Be patient and celebrate small milestones.
Provide Cultural Context: Learning a language is closely tied to understanding its culture. Expose your child to the culture associated with the language through food, music, festivals, and other cultural activities.
Support Their Interests: Tailor language learning to the child's interests. If they enjoy a particular activity or hobby, find ways to incorporate the second language into it.
Be a Role Model: If you are also learning the second language or are a native speaker, be a role model for your child. Show them that you value and use the language in your daily life.
Use Technology: There are many language learning apps, websites and educational programs designed for children. If your child is engaged with technology, encourage use of these apps as an interactive way to support language acquisition.
Celebrate Achievements: Praise your child's efforts and achievements in language learning. Positive reinforcement can boost their confidence and motivation.
The key to success in supporting a child in acquiring a second language is creating a supportive and nurturing environment where learning is enjoyable and not stressful!
Maria is one of Little Gems Montessori’s big gems. She works with our littluns in the Opal classroom, where most children join us with English as an additional language every September. Through lots of engagement, social interaction, group activities, songs and stories, Maria has them all chatting away in English with ease before they move on to their Casa classrooms.
Get in touch should you want to learn more about Second Language Acquisition & Learners.